Bright Light Social Hour Post-tour Interview

The ovrld crew met up with the guys from the Bright Light Social Hour at Hoover’s on Manor for some delicious food and some savory talk about their recent tour, their next album, the joys of wandering around Brooklyn and more. The band is back in Austin after a long tour that showcased their fusion of funk, disco and classic rock to the people of America. Read on below for our conversation with the hometown heroes.
Jack – Bass and Vocals
AJ – Keys and Vocals
Curtis – Guitar and Vocals
Jo – Drums

Carter: How was the tour?
Curtis: I was telling my folks it was kind of like the best vacation I’ve ever had mixed with the best summer camp I’ve ever had mixed with rock n’ roll and getting drunk. Which is a pretty awesome combination.
Jo: I wish summer camps had those last two.
Carter: There’s some rock n’ roll at summer camp.
Jack: I doubt they’re getting drunk every day, though.
Jo: You’re going to the wrong summer camp.

Carter: Did you feel like it went on too long at any point?
Jo: It was actually a lot easier than I was expecting. Everybody held up a lot better than I thought we would. The two week tour – coming back we were all, “Yeah! We’re ready to be home!…We just got acclimated to the routine.
Curtis: You always hear so many horror stories about bands and their first long tours. Like, coming back and hating each other. Someone told me yesterday about a story where their band was in New York and they left one of their band members on the Brooklyn Bridge and they continued their tour.
Carter: And yet you guys are in very good spirits.
Jo: Yeah, I mostly don’t hate them.
Jack: We got used to the farts, used to the feet smell…it stops bothering you after a little while.
Curtis: I don’t know if you can get used to the farts…Honestly, the few times we stayed with another band or travelled with another band, we are a remarkably good-smelling band. For a group of guys, we’re on the good side of it. We shower regularly. We smell worse than normal people, for sure.
AJ: I think teeth brushing could be improved on.
Curtis: Maybe add flossing on the next tour…
Jo: I probably won’t floss until we have an on-tour dentist.

Carter: What was the best show that you guys played?
Jack: Austin was definitely the best…Other than that, though, New York and Tampa were the big ones. Tampa was this Tropical Heat Wave festival, we were playing at the end of a big bill and there was great energy.
Jo: It was the craziest crowd on the whole tour other than Austin.
Jack: There was this guy swinging from the speakers on the side, climbing up. New York was great too, we played with Black Taxi and they sold out the Mercury Lounge. It was an incredible show, and that was probably my favorite night of going out. The singer of Black Taxi, as we were about to leave, was like, “Oh, you’ve got 19 free drinks left!” So we each downed a couple, and there was a group of sailors that we all bought a round. We went to some speakeasy and we were singing on this upright piano. Me and Jo and AJ ended up somewhere in Brooklyn around seven in the morning trying to find sandwiches. That was when the awareness came back a bit.

Bright Light Social Hour - Detroit

Carter: What were some of the lowlights of the tour?
Jack: We were playing in Hartford at an 18 and up dance club. There were seven or eight people there, and we knew all of them except one. Then we tried to leave and there was some sort of…
Curtis: Street altercation.
Jack: So there was a million cops and they wouldn’t let us load out. It took an hour after we were done until we could finally leave. The worst part was that there was a huge line outside [before the show] and we were like, “Hell yes! This is going to be awesome. They must have promoted this really well.” And then they walk in and it turns out there’s a top 40 club upstairs and so they all just walked past us.
AJ: After the show, Alex was threatened with being tazed by one of the cops, there were drug dogs everywhere…It just felt like Mad Max.
Curtis: Driving the New Jersey turnpike was terrible.

Curtis: We mostly ate awesome food everywhere, though. Lobster rolls in Boston, pork ribs in Georgia.
Jo: Those were probably the best thing we had all tour.
Jack: Fat Matt’s Rib Shack in Atlanta, Georgia. That was probably my favorite meal.
AJ: It was incredible.
Jack: The deep dish pizza in Chicago…we felt like Conan’s here in town was better.
Curtis: I think we just went to the wrong two places.
Jack: We went to one of the two places that was supposed to be the best and were just like, “Eh, it’s good…”
Curtis: Ohio had plenty of good food. The venues we played at were all these restaurants with the live music venue. They took really good care of us.
Carter: It sounds like you could do a culinary tour of the U.S.
Jack: I got good footage of every meal. I’m totally going to make a montage of all the great meals that we had. Try to send it to the Food Network.
AJ: It’s kind of funny though, as far as the food goes, our plan was to save a bunch of money. Every now and again, eat sandwiches. Then we had some things go bad in the cooler one day, and we were just kind of, “Oh no! The cooler still smells really terrible! We should probably go eat some awesome food over here instead.” We just never cleaned it…

Carter: So now you’ve got things like Blues on the Green. That’s gotta be crazy different. Is it weird having played a show for 25 people in Youngstown, Ohio, for example, and coming back to fill the lawn at Zilker?
Jack: It’s different, but it’s good. A lot of bands get locked into their shows when they start getting to be higher production. They kind of lose the ability to throw down at a tiny hole in the wall kind of place without all the bells and whistles. So it’s good to be able to do that, and then also be able to play the Mohawk or Zilker with a killer sound system, a team of 12 people, lights and everything.
Curtis: In some senses, it’s a good challenge. Whether it’s a big show or a small show, it has that common fundamental of trying to figure out how to get the crowd to have the best time. All crowds are a little different, so that challenge is always there no matter what the size of the venue is.

Carter: Are you thinking about your next record at all? In Austin, you clearly have made it. It feels like a lot of people are anticipating your second album, whereas in other parts of the country this is what could potentially break you guys there. It seems like two competing pressures. Have you thought about that at all?
Jack: It took a long time playing in Austin to build up what we’ve got here, and the goal is to try to build up as many other cities and markets like that.
AJ: We have to simultaneously be aware that our fan base is in Austin and we don’t want to bore them by trying to focus completely elsewhere. The idea would be, as we write this record, perform some of these songs so you will get fresh tastes of things. … At one point, it will kind of meet up. Whatever album – be it two or three – Austin and the rest of the country will be next to each other. It’ll time out correctly eventually.
Curtis: The first record is new still pretty much everywhere else. So there’s still a lot of work we have to do to get that record out.

Carter: Talking about getting out to a wider national audience, a record label would help that. Are you all in talks?
Jack: We’re less interested in a record deal right now than just trying to get on with a good booking agency. Those are the kinds of things that could help us out a lot right now – putting us on festivals…
Curtis: Opening up for bigger acts.
Jack: It just seems like, with the way things are these days with the Internet…Getting with a record label, they just hook you up with the whole family – the booking agent, etc. But it seems increasingly possible to keep yourself at the center of it and just have your own booking agent that gets you work and books you tours, and then your own PR and your own manager. It’s more like running a small business.

Bright Light Social Hour - Back and Forth

Carter: I want to ask about the evolution of your sound a little bit. I’ve had the joy of listening to some of your earlier work. It sounds like you’ve come an incredibly long way. Did you consciously steer yourselves toward the sound you have now?
Curtis: I guess yes and no. Jack and I started the band as a hardcore band.
Jo: That was the only reason I joined it. Now they’ve tricked me into liking Old People Music! I came in as an androgynous little faggy scene kid and came out a borderline man.
Jack: When we started out we were really into out there stuff. Breaking the rules musically was what really appealed to us.
Jo: It seemed like Mars Volta, Blood Brothers and Dillinger Escape Plan were the Holy Three.
Jack: But then, over time you slowly realize the most important thing is the quality of music. It’s much more important to make quality music than just to break rules – for people who don’t know music and people who do to all enjoy it. So as we matured our taste changed too. We listen to more of what’s stood the test of time and we try to pull the good parts out of that.
Jo: At shows I can see total frat bros and super hipsters right next to each other and by the end of the show they’re all acting the exact same. I like that type of accessible. A lot of bands are “accessible” but what they really mean is it’s top 40 friendly or it’s bland. I think it’s cool because we may be accessible in the 70s sense where a lot of people can genuinely be into it regardless.

Carter: “Garden of the Gods,” I noticed, was “Roses” [on Montopolis]. In rewriting that, what were you looking for?
Jack: Taking out the crappy parts.
Curtis: It also kind of transformed. There was a summer we were playing a residency at Shakespeare’s and we had to fill up a lot of time every night. We had to play almost three hour sets and that song in particular we just started jamming out a lot. And over the summer we wrote an entire jam to it and that caused us to reconceive the song. It became a more compelling song to us, so we wanted to retool it for a future record.
AJ: “Bare Hands Bare Feet” evolved in that time and “Back and Forth” evolved in that time, and when those songs started getting a strange amount of attention that was when we were like, “Ohhh…Here’s a direction!”
Jo: “Back and Forth” was the first song I remember people remembering.
AJ: They would get super excited about it and that was when things started turning as far as songwriting.
Curtis: I think one of the things that makes us such a different band now then when we were starting out is that we listen to so much more music now than we listened to at first. We pretty much just listened to a bunch of hardcore and prog stuff when we started the band, and now we listen to rock, classic rock, blues, house, electronic, funk and soul. We’re always just trading music and taking little bits and pieces out of it. It makes our approach a bit more full. We’re not just playing for a small genre. We’re trying to bring some things together that don’t always go together.
AJ: It’s starting to become a study. As musicians, you need to listen to all these different things and it really does help. Things that do not sound like us. You listen to it for the nuances and you can throw them in.
Jack: It’s like, “This is cool music that we would never play, but what’s an element that’s the Fuck-yeah element?”
Carter: It sounds like a really active songwriting process rather than passively letting these elements wash over you.
AJ: Some of it’s subconscious. And some of it you tinker with for quite some time.

Carter: Where are you guys headed?
AJ: We’re not going to try to make an album that sounds exactly the same, obviously. We’re pulling now from different influences. Who knows how the whole album’s going to sound? We’re only maybe a fifth in. It’s just going to be different. Like, one of the breakdowns of one of these songs is super house-oriented.
Jo: On the first album we drew more from disco and I think we’ve kind of progressed a little further and now this new stuff is drawing more from house. In my mind, as the drummer, that’s the most housey element of it.
Carter: So the third album will be dubstep.
Curtis: Over my dead body.

Dan: All three of you do vocals. How do you decide who does vocals for each song?
AJ: Whatever’s appropriate. We have distinctly different voices so it’s whatever feels right.
Jack: A lot of times, we will have the music and then based on the vocal melodies we ask, “Whose voice works best on that? What about the harmonies?” At first it’s kind of hard because you’re like, “I wanna sing it!” “No, I wanna sing it; it’s my song!” But you have to realize that the goal is to make the best possible song.
AJ: You have to stop telling yourself that you know best. That is the number one opposite thing to think. We all know a little bit and we just have to throw this shit together. Some of the best decisions are better when we’re all involved.
Jack: We put everything under the microscope; nothing’s free from scrutiny. We write lyrics for each other and vocal parts and even on the instruments.

Dan: Can you guys tell us about the remix album?
Jo: I’ve been wanting to do remixes of “Back and Forth” since before we put out this album, and I finally got our recording engineer to give me the stem files from “Back and Forth.” I’ve been wanting to do it forever because it’s a danceable song and as a DJ I want something I can play on a dance floor that fits more in the vein of what I play. I threw together this idea of DJing every Wednesday at the Parish and I’m DJing with my best DJ friend, Shredword, who I learned to DJ with. So I gave the stem files out to a couple of producers and so whenever the tracks are ready we’re going to release it on Academic. It was started during SXSW and it was instantly the biggest label in Austin for electronic music because we don’t have other labels. They’re shooting for an August release on the label.
Jack: An album won’t be out Wednesday but the DJs will be debuting their remixes.
Jo: So in one day we’re going to play Blues on the Green, which is a big awesome Austin thing, and then at the afterparty everybody’s going to get fucking filthy at the Parish. People who go to both events will get to see the full breadth of how we’re involved musically. It’s a fucking nonstop party from seven until two in the morning.

It was great talking to Jack, AJ, Curtis and Jo and we are definitely happy that they are back home. We’re looking forward to a night full of the Bright Light Social Hour’s tasty jams.